It can be just as valuable as a university degree—especially for womenby Catherine Hakim / March 24, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
Katie Price, aka Jordan, does not owe her astonishing success to university
Michelle and Barack Obama have it. Carla Bruni and David Beckham have it. Jordan has even made a career from it. So great is the advantage “erotic capital” can bring to the labour market—especially in sport, the arts, media and advertising—that it often outweighs educational qualifications.
It’s a term I coined to refer to a nebulous but crucial combination of physical and social attractiveness. Properly understood, erotic capital is what economists call a “personal asset,” ready to take its place alongside economic, cultural, human and social capital. It is just (if not more) as important for social mobility and success.
Erotic capital goes beyond beauty to include sex appeal, charm and social skills, physical fitness and liveliness, sexual competence and skills in self-presentation, such as face-painting, hairstyles, clothing and all the other arts of self-adornment. Most studies capture only one facet of it: photographs measure beauty or sex appeal, psychologists measure confidence and social skills, sex researchers ask about seduction skills and numbers of partners. Yet women have long excelled at such arts: that’s why they tend to be more dressed up than men at parties. They make more effort to develop the “soft skills” of charm, empathy, persuasion, deploying emotional intelligence and “emotional labour.” Indeed, the final element of erotic capital is unique to women: bearing children. In some cultures, fertility is an essential element of women’s erotic power. And even though female fertility is less important in northern Europe (where families are smaller) women’s dominant position in this market has been reinforced in recent decades by a much-lamented phenomenon: the sexualisation of culture.
Since the contraceptive revolution of the 1960s, surveys from around the world reveal a dramatic increase in sexual a…